I've always wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not as governor of California, but as Arnold the bodybuilder, from the neck down.
My quick solution to become an Arnie look-alike rests in a fantasy where another guy does all the gym work then transfers his six-pack abs and 30-inch waist to my sagging frame through a miraculous invention akin to the teleporter on Star Trek.
Poof! I've got 21-inch biceps.
When I hit 40, blood sugar rising and staring at a future in 38W Levi's, I was working at a seminary in Africa. One of my co-workers was a 24-year-old graphic artist named Innocent, who looked like he camped on a weight bench.
Innocent would pat my pot belly and say, "Old man, when are you going to do something about that gut?"
Believe me, I had tried. Exercise. Diet. Failure.
But Innocent challenged me to meet at the gym every morning before work to reverse 4 decades of North American metabolic disorder.
He designed a program "to get results" and breathed down my neck to make sure I lifted with proper technique, completing every repetition. I developed pains that made me wonder if I had pectoral cancer.
Innocent just kept pushing and I lost 20 pounds. He helped me do something that I failed to do alone. Innocent also desired that I help him grow spiritually, and that motivated me to do breakfast at the gym.
We basically told each other, "I need you and you need me."
We developed an accountability relationship.
As iron sharpens iron, Innocent and I helped each other succeed where our solo efforts had failed. God desires Christians to live in community, bearing one another's burdens, striving together, as Paul says in Colossians 1:28,29, to present every man perfect in Christ.
More than being a bodybuilding wannabe, my primary passion is to walk through this life in a way that honors God. I want to grow spiritually, emotionally and socially, keeping in check the bent of my humanness to walk away from God and delve into destructive behavior.
I want an abundant life full of love, joy, peace and self-control.
Those are all great words, and awesome goals. But I need strength and wisdom from other believers to fully experience God.
"Christians know more about the Bible than they ever plan on obeying," says author John Maxwell. "We don't need more food; we need more exercise."
I think God allows us to have weaknesses to keep us dependent upon Him -- and to need other people.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is a blueprint for those kinds of relationships. It tells us that people journeying together can produce spiritual fruit (v. 9), experience spiritual restoration (v. 10), inject spiritual zeal (v. 11), and, maybe most importantly, provide spiritual protection from our mutual enemy -- Satan (v. 12).
"Even if Christ lives in you, and even if you're a committed disciple, there are times when temptation will be nearly overpowering," says Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship. "We need to remember that we're self-deluding creatures who are fully capable of rationalizing the worst sins, even as Christians."
Last year, I relocated to the United States, leaving behind powerful accountability relationships developed over a 2-decade period of ministering in Nairobi, Kenya.
Four Kenyan men helped me grow as an effective missionary in their culture, but they also pushed me to cultivate a godly marriage.
Two of those men were George and James, who met with me at a downtown coffee shop before work on most Thursday mornings.
We allowed each other into our weakest areas. I can't tell you what those were, because confidentiality is standard in accountability relationships, but we utilized a set of questions that we discussed over omelets and prized Kenyan coffee:
- How are you growing in your relationship with Christ?
- Do you feel emotionally drawn or vulnerable to someone other than your spouse?
- Have you given adequate priority and time to your spouse and kids?
- Have you been diligent in areas of agreed-upon personal discipline, such as diet, exercise, prayer, anger control, gossiping?
- What progress are you making toward your life goals?
- Have you observed anything in my life that I need to hear about?
- Have you lied to me in any of your answers?
We often dreamt together about life goals and challenged each other to pursue ideas bigger than ourselves. Our meetings bred an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance that allowed us to openly share our struggles.
But good accountability is more than a set of questions; it's about thriving relationships that continue to grow.
Longevity bred safety. We met off and on for 15 years, our relationships evolving as our life stages changed.
Back in the United States, I'm planting life anew, and asking God for a group of men who will help me continue to experience Him, holding me accountable to grow spiritually.
My consistency at the gym died when Innocent landed a job in Dubai. Again, I'm staring at 38W Levi's. Seems like I need a brother's help to maintain my fitness.
But my waistline isn't nearly as valuable as my spiritual life. Walking with God means community with others.
Alone, I just won't make it.